Marc Umile’s compact contemporary comedy is reminiscent of those one-hour comedy/dramas that were a mainstay of 1950s live television. “Vic Lanudi’s Daughters,” set in present-day New York, features racier dialogue, but the predictable crisis/conflict/catharsis/conclusion formula is still neatly rolled out in just about 60 minutes, as it might have been on the “U.S. Steel Hour” or “Alcoa Presents.”
As a stage work, however, Umile’s one-acter doesn’t go far enough or deep enough into the lives of its characters to justify the journey away from one’s TV set.
The spirit of recently departed actor Vic Lanudi (John Phillip Law) has planted himself in the N.Y. apartment of his eldest daughter, Laura (Gina Minervini), to lend his ghostly presence to the reading of his will.
Gathered are his four daughters, each the product of a different union and each bearing the wounds of his parental neglect.
With dad offering advice, apologies and consolation from the sidelines, the four struggle with themselves, each other and their memories to finally come to terms with their lives, forgive their father and move on. Law is quite believable as the imposingly handsome cad.
Unfortunately, on opening night, Law’s timing never seemed to be in sync with the rest of the cast. His monologues tended to collide with the rest of the ensemble’s dialogues rather than support them.
The four actresses are excellent as the dysfunctional offspring; it’s too bad they really have nowhere to go with their characters. Minervini moves about the stage as one who has been mortally wounded but refuses to die. Priscilla Barnes is hilarious as Trudy.
Jilianne St. Clair is delightfully irate as Little Laura, the hyperkinetic scholar who can’t even claim her name as her own. And Martha Thompson is dead-on as the dazed and confused virginal Susan who is just discovering that she has sisters.
Director Mary Lou Belli certainly knows how to keep the action moving. Despite the opening-night miscues and the skimpiness of the script, Belli manages to highlight what’s important and downplay the rest.
The set design of Gayle Simon accurately conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of a Manhattan studio apartment, supported by Mark Sanford’s minimal but effective lighting design.
Umile has an excellent ear for dialogue and comedy. He should condense this work into a taut first act and then really give his characters a chance to fly in Act II.